Friday, September 23, 2016

Five Take-Aways from Combat Mindset Class

Fellow martial artists: do you train your mind for violence as much as you train your body for violence?

This was the question I pondered last week at the Krav Maga Global Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning class taught by Mr Eyal Yanilov at First Defense Krav Maga in Herndon, VA.

This was a three-day class that combined mental and physical drills with lecture. We shared part of the time with the Combat Fighters Instructors Course practitioners, who somehow endured a separate, unbelievably intense eight day class. The CFIC candidates called our group the "Mentals" and we joked that we were busy staring at goats while they hammered each other into the mats.

In this post I will share five take-aways from the mindset class.

1. Three elements comprise mental training to enhance self-defense, fighting, and third party protection. These three are 1) courage (alternatively: determination, persistence, aggression, and confidence); 2)  focus (or concentration); and 3) relaxation (or escape from distracting emotions). I was not sure how I measured against these three, but the drills quickly let me know I needed work in all areas!

Mental skills require training, just like physical skills. Without exercise, both atrophy. I considered that I had developed these three components to a decent degree during my time at the Air Force Academy, but had not sufficiently and exercised them in a purposeful manner since.

2. Triggers are powerful. Do you recognize the movie scene at right? It's from one of my favorite films, Gladiator. Before he fights, general Maximus grabs dirt and rubs it into his hands. I realized that he used that as a "trigger" to switch his mindset into combat mode.

At the seminar Mr Yanilov helped us develop the feelings and mindset necessary for combat mode, and incorporate a more practical trigger. When you need to explode violently, you will not have time to bend down and pick up dirt. However, you can move your fingers in a unique manner (one example), in a move that is not related to everyday activities. I found this approach very useful to help "switch on" the burst of violence needed in a self-defense or combat situation.

3. The body influences the mind and the mind influences the body. This was a core theme of the three day class. We worked drills in both directions. The reason this works is that parts of the conscious can't tell the difference between real and imagined behavior.

Breathing is an example of using the body to affect the mind. When the mind becomes calm or agitated, it can similarly affect breathing.

I also learned that I can tell myself to not take a certain action, but in a crisis the body can react completely on its own. With training these survival instincts can be fought, but it takes work!

4. Visualize, visualize, visualize. Building on the last point, I learned I should spend more time visualizing as a mental and physical development tool. Because parts of the conscious can't tell the difference between real and imagined behavior, you can essentially practice scenarios, techniques, and tactics mentally and experience measurable improvement.

This does not mean that mental training can replace physical exercise. You can't simply imagine your way to success. However, visualization can be a powerful tool. For example, you can visualize a self-defense situation from three points of view: 1) as the first party (yourself); 2) as the second party (your opponent); or 3) as a third party (a neutral observer). Imagine how the scenario could play out from all three view points.

5. Stress kills, but it doesn't have to kill you. We are far more likely to die from stress-related conditions (high blood pressure, heart diseases, and the like) than we are from a violent confrontation, assuming we live in decent neighborhoods and avoid risky locations and behavior. While exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress, we should complement physical relief with mental approaches.

For example, we learned a few ways to better manage stressful work situations. We learned about the effects of body posture and how you can "fake it until you feel it" to make your posture work for you. We applied visualization to stressful interactions to make a hypothetical confrontation with a corporate "Mike Tyson" a less intimidating experience. We also learned ways to empty our minds through focus drills to gain relief from stressful thoughts.

This post can't due justice to the pages of notes I took on a 25 hour class, but I wanted to give you a feel for the excellent class. Thank you to Mr Yanilov for visiting the US from Israel to teach us, and to First Defense Krav Maga for organizing and hosting the event.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Five Tips for a Successful Krav Maga Grading

On Saturday I tested for the Practitioner level 2 in Krav Maga Global, at the regional grading event at First Defense. The test came a little over five months since my P1 test.

It was my first experience testing with students from other schools. It was cool to meet other Krav practitioners and see how they interpreted and expressed Krav culture and technique.

The event featured testing opportunities for all Practitioner and Graduate ranks. There were so many participants we occupied space in the First Defense school and the nearby dance school!

In this post I want to share five tips that helped me pass the P2 test. By writing these tips I do not intend to portray myself as obsessed with rank. Rather, I want to share some thoughts to consider if you are interested in progressing through the KMG levels.

1. Approach every practice session with the next test in mind. I did not implement this suggestion until July. Previously I was happy to soak up whatever knowledge I could gain in my practice sessions.

At the start of July I heard we had a grading event planned for the fall, and I realized I needed to make it count. Beyond P1, all KMG grading is now done at regional tests, unlike P1, which can be done in one's local school.

With a new sense of urgency, I kept the test process in mind throughout July, August, and the beginning of September.

2. Understand in great detail what is expected of your next test. Once I understood when the next test opportunity would take place, I began familiarizing myself with the P2 curriculum. Our school makes worksheets available at the front door, so I collected one and studied it.

I also subscribe to MaxKravMaga, which provides the curriculum and videos for all or nearly all required material.

By better understanding the curriculum, I could identify when P2 material was being taught during group sessions. This added an incentive to pay extra attention to that technique or method.

It's not that I zoned out when learning P3 or higher material. I enjoy learning higher material when it's offered, as I see it as a "preview" of the future.

However, by knowing that the group session included specific P2 techniques, I could ask questions and try to be sure I understood what we were learning that day.

3. Review videos daily. In July I also added a MaxKravMaga video review to my daily routines. I started with P1 material and continued through P2. I ended up watching P3 and some P4, but the few weeks prior to Saturday's test I concentrated on P2 videos.

These videos have been exceptionally helpful for me. I often need a lot of time to digest and process new techniques. Using video is helpful because I can slow down the explanation. Sometimes I take screen captures of key moments to use as technique "checkpoints." The videos also help me predict what the graders would be looking for during the test.

4. Schedule private lessons. Prior to my test I scheduled two private lessons with Mr. Nick Masi, owner of FDKM. I scheduled the first lesson ten days before the test and the second three days before the test.

During the first private session I asked Nick to help me with parts of the curriculum that I hadn't seen that often during our group sessions.

During the second private session I asked Nick to review common problem areas for P1 and P2 material. I also reviewed a few techniques that were still giving me trouble since our last session.

These private lessons were the final piece I needed to add confidence to my grading experience.

Mike (testing partner), Pat (grader), Me
5. Approach the test as an extra-long, extra-intense training session -- but don't make it your first extra-long, extra-intense training session. I was nervous the week prior to the test, and especially on Saturday. I took the advice sent in a pre-test email:

"Don't think of it as a test, just think of it as more time on the mats, training. The only difference is that someone is asking to see what you know."

This approach helped me quite a bit.

I was very motivated to see so many of my fellow classmates gathered together. Seeing everyone helped me think of the event as a giant seminar. It was also really cool to see my instructors testing for higher G ranks, and to see the KMG founder Mr Eyal Yanilov walking around the school watching the event.

The P2 test was over twice the length of the P1 test, which lasted 90 minutes. The P2 was over 3 hours 20 minutes. The P3 candidates tested over 4 hours, and I believe the P5 and higher grades were still going after the 5 hour mark. The test schedule said 1-7 pm, so the highest grades tested for at least 6 hours.

The duration of the event meant that it helped to have experience with lengthy martial arts training sessions. Prior to the test I had attended a four hour seminar with Eyal in Las Vegas, multiple two hour sparring sessions ("fight nights"), four two-and-a-half hour combatives sessions, one five hour combatives seminar, and a six hour Inosanto seminar. The longer sessions, particularly the five hour combatives course, helped me understand how I would perform under long duration conditions.

Final Note: I'd like to thank my testing partner Mike for asking me to work with him Saturday afternoon. He and I worked well together and we both passed. I'd also like to thank our grader, Mr Patrick Hards, for providing a fair testing environment and for giving us honest feedback for improvement. Pat spent about a half hour giving specific comments and general group feedback for the new P2s, which I captured via some iPhone footage and digital notebook.

Overall I enjoyed the P2 grading experience. Rumor has it the next opportunity will occur in the spring, probably six months from now in March. Although I am attending the P & G Weekend in Las Vegas in November, I must wait 5-6 months for my next testing window. I'm putting steps 1-4 in practice now in the hopes that I am invited to test again in the spring.

If you plan to test at the P & G Weekend in November, now is the time to put these five steps to work for you -- good luck with your training and testing!

How was your last grading experience? Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Deal with Used Equipment

Used martial arts gear. Serious person not included.
How does your school manage its inventory of used training equipment?

In How Super Was the Martial Arts SuperShow? I promised to share more martial arts business tips that I picked up at the SuperShow in July.

In this post I will share a brief note on managing used training equipment.

When I train, I don't place a lot of emphasis on the condition of the equipment. So long as it still performs its intended function, I am fine with seeing signs of use.

Newer students might not think this way. They have not yet developed the cues of quality that a more experienced martial artist might use.

For example, I am much more interested in watching how the more senior students move than I am in the condition of a kick shield.

Nevertheless, all equipment can degenerate to the point where it's not effective, or potentially even unsafe for use.

As an instructor, I believe you have a duty to your students to train them in a safe manner. You can achieve this goal and also serve the more aesthetically-minded audience if you consider the following tip.

Keep an eye on your training equipment -- kick shields, focus mitts, heavy bags, and the like. Watch for signs of wear. Using your own threshold -- whatever that might be -- establish a standard for removing the gear from school use.

The tip which I learned at the SuperShow is this: don't discard the used equipment. Instead, offer it for sale to your students, at some discount -- say 50% off retail. Students will be happy to get a kick shield or heavy bag for a steep discount. After all, it's the same equipment they were just using in class.

Collect the money you receive from these sales and put it towards buying replacement equipment.

In this way, the gear your students use in class is always meeting your standards of good condition.

The SuperShow speakers recommended selecting a corner of your school as the "sale area" where used equipment can be bought. You might want to keep a couple of each types of equipment in this display area, with the remainder in storage. Students are more likely to want to pick up gear if they perceive scarcity.

What do you think of this approach?

Friday, September 2, 2016

All Over the Map? Krav Maga and Iain Abernethy's Martial Map

Iain Abernethy's Martial Map
For the last month I've been listening to the outstanding Iain Abernethy Podcast, starting with the first episode from 2006. The January 2011 edition was titled The Martial Map, and it introduced Iain's model for thinking about what he calls self-protection, martial arts, and fighting.

He argues that these are three distinct disciplines, but they do overlap. The graphic depiction of this concept appears in the figure at left, and Iain's podcast (which he describes as an "e-book" due to its length), explains what the seven areas mean for those of us doing combat-related practices.

I really enjoyed learning about this model because it helps me better understand my own journey. However, it does introduce some problems. For one, is there an overall term that captures all three elements? Naturally I would expect the term "martial art" to include self-protection, fighting, and the activities Iain labels "martial arts." I'm not sure I agree with Iain's separation of martial arts from self-protection and fighting, but I understand his explanation for doing so.

Another issue to consider is the idea of being a "complete" practitioner. The explosion of the ground game following the UFC brought this reality to light for many martial artists. Unfortunately, too often we think only in terms of tactical considerations. Being "complete," for many of us, means being able to fight at all ranges: long/leg range, medium/punching range, short/trapping or clinching range, and ground or grappling range. (Even this topic is subject to many interpretations, including "out of range," or even finer gradations of distance or interaction.)

However, being proficient at these ranges cannot equal being "complete" in my mind. How do you deal with weapons -- either blunt, edged, or projectile (firearms)? How do you handle multiple opponents? How do you protect third parties? There are many other topics that one could introduce to be considered "complete," and only within the "fighting" discipline -- never mind the self-protection or "martial arts" worlds!

The advantage of Iain's martial map is clearly stated in his podcast: use the model to determine how your system's practice fit within self-protection, martial arts, and/or fighting. We are very clear about this in Krav Maga, as I wrote in an earlier post titled Is Krav Maga a Martial Art? Using the martial map, I would align Krav Maga with the self-protection area, as supported by Mr. Eyal Yanilov's statement that "Krav Maga is not a martial art.. it is a reality based self defense system." (emphasis added)

At the higher levels of Krav Maga (emphasized in the Graduate and above ranks), there is more emphasis on fighting, but at all levels there is hardly any of what Iain would call "martial art." This is why I like to supplement my Krav Maga training with a traditional kung fu style, which is much more "martial art."

Have you heard Iain's podcast? How does your practice align? Do you think there needs to be an "uber term" for all three areas, and if yes, what is it?

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